Press your spaceface close to mine

Fear of a robot planet

Posted by halcyon on Sep 12, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Some worry that the robots might eventually become smarter than humans. Here’s what you might have to look forward to if they don’t.

Always here to help,
Psych Officer
Galactic Mu

[Captain says: stop messing with your speakers, there is no volume. This is the only YouTube video we could locate, and it had a copyright issue with the soundtrack.]

Oh man, I imagine the first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is like this.  Shame.  Slight edge of defensiveness.  Pride.  Self-loathing.  Wondering how soon I can leave so I can get a drink.  Before you wonder why I’m writing about this here, I’d like to remind you that energy drinks are the actually on the Nerds, Dorks and Geeks national flag.

I’m a Red Bull drinker.  Here’s why:

  • I like the taste: it’s sour, which masks the sugar (sugar is one of the key components of feeling “vitilized”), and generically fruity.
  • It is only 8 ounces.  I don’t like drinking a lot of fluids (result: I’m dehydrated more often than not) and those giant 32oz or whatever Monster Energy drinks make me nauseated just looking at them.
  • It does not have high fructose corn syrup.
  • It’s only “speed” product is caffeine.
  • It actually does increase a sense of well-being and brain activity.  I get no fast-up, fast-down crash like I do from even a cup of coffee.

Now, the first explanation I get from people who dislike Red Bull is the flavor, which is something I can’t really argue.  Okay, you don’t like it.  I happen to.  I prefer sour beverages over sweet as a rule and I appreciate that Red Bull tastes, well, like Red Bull.  Not strawberry or piña-colada, or melon.  It is what it is.

Now, the second explanation I get is generally that that person “can’t drink” energy drinks.  Meaning they can’t physically deal with the speedy, jittery mess that comes from most of these products.  My dad, for example, rather notoriously gets light-headed, fluttery and freaked out on them despite liking caffeine.  A lot.  And to be fair, most of these drinks have a whole cache of questionable South American fad-of-the-moment jungle drugs in them, probably explaining the lab-rat nightmare my dad experiences.  As a side note, one of these drugs, guarana, is merely a source of caffeine, albeit in doses about 5x those found in coffee beans.   It’s a fancy way of saying “a fuckton of caffeine”.

But this is where it gets interesting.

The caffeine is all the “energy” that Red Bull has going for it, and a mere 80mg per 8 ounces – that’s less than a cup of coffee.   So its a $2 a can rip-off, right?  Weeeee!  Now for the science!

Famously, Red Bull brags about its taurine content, and taurine, kids, is an interesting thing.  Its a serious chemical workhorse, not only found in the body naturally already, but critical in a variety of functions.  Heavily researched, it can be said to reliably do the following:

  • Decreases blood pressure.
  • Protect against excitotoxicity (the damaging aspect of consuming aspartame and MSG).
  • Is an antioxidant.
  • Prevents muscular stress during exercise.
  • Generally reduce risk factors of heart disease.
  • Helps the brain regulate body fat (read: fights obesity).
  • Lowers bad cholesterol.
  • Helps to regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Regulates hydration.
  • Regulates electrolyte balance.
  • Studies have shown that taurine intake results in reduced hangover symptoms (true!) ¹

There are a shit ton of resources on the net, but the general consensus is: it’s not damaging, at least not immediately so.  There aren’t a lot of long-term studies on excess taurine consumption, but since it occurs in naturally high doses in fish and meat, it seems like our bodies can handle it.  The flip side is that we may not be getting enough taurine, especially vegetarians and vegans.

The inclusion of taurine in Red Bull is not a speed or an energy boost, but an aid in both the function of the brain (reaction time, memory and stress regulation) but in the body’s ability to process physical strain.  It’s a regulator, a throttle.  Some research shows it might better allow the body to utilize caffeine, limiting the caffeine depression the body feels after the high fades.

Now we come to glucuronolactone.   Glucuronolactone occurs naturally in the body as the liver processes glucose.  It, like taurine, is not a speed or energy booster, but a carbohydrate that assists in detoxification.  But research showed a strange side-effect: it made people happy.  Not outrageously happy, but there it was, an unexpected sense of well-being and satiation.

All other ingredients in Red Bull are B vitamins, which in high doses create an increase in blood flow to the face and a kind of energetic flush.  Feels a little like caffeine, but it doesn’t result in an elevated heart rate or have the accompanying jitters.  More interestingly, B vitamins cannot be stored in the body, so we have to consume them on a regular basis.  All fine and dandy, except that caffeine, nicotine and high fructose corn syrup all draw B vitamins from the body.  So, if you’re smoking, drinking Coca-Cola and over the age of 30, chances are you’re burning through B’s faster than you’re replacing them. And are some of the first signs of B deficiency?  Fatigue, irritability and depression.  So you drink more coffee, smoke more cigarettes.  Round and round.

So! As I am not a doctor nor a chemist, I can assure you of at least one thing: Red Bull is not some insane, Faster & Furiouser legal speed.  Nor is it hooey.  I think the $2 price tag could come down a little, but my honest feeling is if you’re going to drink a cup of coffee in an attempt to slap your brain into shape, you might be better off drinking a Red Bull.  And, if Lindsay Lohan suddenly gets brain cancer, let’s all stop.

¹It should be noted that the caffeine in Red Bull probably counteracts this element.  You might be better off buying a taurine supplement and popping a few of those.

Colonoscopy Live-Blogging: Day 2, Molestation

Posted by Sunday on Dec 30, 2008 at 8:36 am

6:13 AM:

Thought for the day: you don’t really feel like a monkey until you shit in the shower.


I have no idea at what time events unfolded, so I’ll dispense with that crap.

  • Could not sleep at all last night.  A nurse had warned that the massive jettisoning of icy liquid through your bowels drops your core temp a little and to keep plenty of warm clothes on.  She wasn’t kidding.  I’d have these terrible fits of shivering followed by angry hot flashes.  This kept me up most of the night.  Near morning a headache and nausea kept me up.
  • Got to the endoscopy clinic and found out that my plans of having my mother take photos of me all tubed up wouldn’t see fruition: no non-patients allowed due to the high volume of other patients lying around.  Boo.  Instead I was in a room with three other people (an older woman and a middle-aged man) while we were asked about allergies.  I said I was allergic to having giant cables inserted into my ass.  I’m lying, I just shivered and whimpered.  Also: the male patient made eye-contact with me several times, which I found rude.  Not just because we were going to have colonoscopies in a few minutes, but because at 7am I expect you to keep your eyes off my face, fuckwad.
  • My nurse had a lisp.
  • I warned my nurse I was nauseated and later when she was inserting my IV and I sort of belched and sighed ominously she asked teasingly, “Did the needle bother you?  And with all those tattoos?” to which I had to refrain from giving a snotty answer.  Don’t be snotty to your endoscopy nurse.  That’s good advice.   I reminded her that I said I was nauseated before.
  • After being wheeled into the endoscopy room and hooked up to oxygen, she asked me what music I’d like to listen to during the procedure.  I said “Classical, piano, something like that.”  She put Enya in.
  • After my doctor was 10 minutes late the nurse’s fangs came out and she did a hospital-wide page.  I was surprised.  One time at the dentist they rigged me into bite-blocks and a dental dam to prepare for filling cavities and then the dentist left the room for 20 minutes.  TWENTY MINUTES.  That shithead better have been resuscitating kittens or something, because that was some serious torture.  Anyway, after the nurse paged the doctor showed up.
  • I love my GI.  He’s a good guy.  Better a rad doctor who is running 15 minutes late than a shitty doctor on time, am I right or am I right?
  • I learn that I won’t be getting the sedation I got for my last colonoscopy, I’ll be getting a lighter, conscious sedation.  My anxiety level goes up.  I say, “I’m anxious.” They assure me the drugs are still fantastic.  They are right.
  • I remember gripping the side of the gurney at some point and grunting in pain and then the nurse running over with another syringe and then things getting really fucking awesome and fuzzy.  The great thing about the drugs is, I don’t even recall the pain.  Even during it I vaguely recall thinking, am I faking this?
  • I start to come around again a little during the biopsies.  Since I can see the TV they are watching the proceedure through, I see this little alien claw head snapping at what looks like bubblegum and pulling away in little red bursts.  It was pretty and mesmerising.  Of course, as soon as I realized it was the biopsy tool chomping pieces of my colon, a little of the magic is gone.
  • I don’t remember anything until a different nurse is coming into a recovery area and telling me that I need to try and fart.  I ask her, “Like, just let it out, or bear down?”  “Oh, bear down,” she says emphatically.  “Now’s your chance to really let ‘em rip.”  I don’t have the sobriety to tell her that’s what I normally do.
  • I hear patients on either side of me ripping gigantic, cartoonish Bog of Eternal Stench farts and must smother myself with my own pillow to keep from laughing.  What’s really getting me is that one of them, the woman, is making sad little noises each time like she’s horribly disappointed with herself for farting so loud (SO LOUD!) and then the man on the other side gives these hearty sighs, like he’s working out.  I, in another impossibly rare turn of events, can’t get one out to save my life.  I let out a few totally silent, tiny wispy ones, but that’s it.  The nurse actually comes back in and encourages me again, and I tell her I don’t think I need to.  She presses on my abdomen and looks surprised.  “Huh.  No gas.”  Yeah.  I’m a damn miracle.
  • My GI comes back in and says, “Okay, I don’t believe this, but you have a perfectly healthy colon.”  I gain new respect for him making such a cruel joke.  It dawns on me that he’s serious when he hands me the printout of my guts and says, “If I didn’t know for sure you had Crohn’s disease, I’d say this was a healthy woman’s gut.  Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”  I am in total shock.  Joking aside, I thought I’d be lucky with some thickening of the wall, maybe a few active lesions.  Was crossing my fingers that I just didn’t have any polyps or clear fistulas.  But a healthy colon? Wow.


  • I get home and eat two semi-soft boiled eggs with salt and pepper and it is the most delicious thing I have eaten in my entire life.

I of course haven’t gotten the biopsy results back yet, but with no visible signs of, well, anything, it is safe to assume they are all clear.  Oh, and there’s always bad news: in the past, the GI has recommended that I get a colonoscopy every 5 years, but recent research has changed this to every two years.  Yerg.

4 Posted in Weird Science

Colonoscopy Live-Blogging: Day 1, Prep

Posted by Sunday on Dec 29, 2008 at 7:16 am

5:12 AM:

This is predictable.  I picked up a headcold yesterday and woke at 3:30 this ‘morning’ totally unable to breathe out of my nose and doing that sleep-apnea thing where I wake up gasping for air while lying in a pool of my own saliva.  There’s also a great deal of drainage making its way to my stomach, so I’m belchy and nauseated as well.  This is going to be a fucking long, long day.

Liveblogging continued after the jump!

0 Posted in Weird Science

My Butt

Posted by Sunday on Dec 28, 2008 at 7:12 pm

Well!  Things are very exciting in these parts, by which I mean the upcoming colonoscopy I get to have in a few days.  It’s not really a surprise since I need to get them with some regularity due to my disease, but I thought that some folks might like a walk-through of what it is like to get one.  Because you will need one soon too!  You are older than you think!

Basically, there are two kinds of colon look-sees.  There is a “sigmoidoscopy” which means the doctor uses a camera to view the first two feet of the colon.  A sigmoidoscopy does not require the patient be knocked out and is often done when just a light screening is needed (for example, you’re getting older but you don’t have any symptoms of anything wrong and there isn’t a lot of colon problems in your family), sort of like a dental cleaning as opposed to actual dental work.

Then we have a colonoscopy, which requires sedation due to the discomfort of the procedure.  A long camera (the endoscope) is inserted into the anus and then explored all the way up to where the large intestine meets the small (about five feet total).

It’s time for me to have a colonoscopy because of a three reasons.  I only needed one reason, but I waited until I had three.  I’m difficult.  Anyway:

  1. People with Crohn’s Disease are at high risk for cancer and polyps and need to get colonoscopies about every five years to be safe.  It has been longer than 5 years.  I’m not gonna say how much longer because I’m embarrassed.
  2. New research is showing that cancer and/or polyps start showing up about 18 years after Crohn’s onset and it has been 19 years since I think my symptoms started.
  3. Back in May I had a Crohn’s event that I thought was a bad flare-up but the doc thinks was actually a micro-perforation of the bowel (this was news to me).  This really shows that we need a new baseline of what my bowels are doing down there in the dark, in secret.

So, no-brainer.  Time for another colonoscopy.

The thing is: I’m terrified of the prep process.  I hate it.  So!  To distract myself, tomorrow I am going to be live-blogging the whole event!  You read right!  GalacticMu will be returning to its regularly scheduled programming in the next week or two, but until then, please tune in tomorrow and the next day for the most exciting colon-blogging on the internet.

0 Posted in Weird Science


Posted by Sunday on Nov 22, 2008 at 7:00 pm

I really only ask one thing from the space race, and that is that there be no goddamn spiders up there.  Is that so hard?

Asshole scientists populate space with spiders, via (thanks, Aargh)

The Scent of a Geek

Posted by Sunday on Nov 19, 2008 at 6:17 pm

Fair warning: this is a bit of a lady-post.

It’s standard cocktail party factoid that smell triggers memory better than any other sense, but the intensity with which these memories are tripped is utterly fascinating to me.  For me I experience a potent and discordant sense of elsewhere when I wear a perfume – the smell of where I first wore it.  It is a disorienting feeling that loses it’s punch as the minutes tick by, like deja-vu but lingering and weirder.

I’m a perfume whore, something that occurred after another strange event.  At age 17 I was hospitalized for my disease, a period during which I was crammed as full of antibiotics and corticosteroids as I could be without defying saturation physics. When I came out the other side of that adventure I had a supernatural sense of smell.   And strangely, not only did unpleasant smells give me as much pleasure as pleasant ones, but I didn’t seem capable of overloading my olfactory sense.  People around me warned me that I was wearing far too much perfume and I took to applying profound amounts at home, in private, and would shower it all off before I needed to be in public.

My greed for perfume soon waned in its intensity as my nose returned to its average-sensing self, but for one expensive and slightly (at the time) embarrassing point: I had gained a need for good perfume.  Fancy perfume.  I could smell the difference, even if not in such rich proportion as before.

This led to a series of flings.  I can’t be a monogamous perfume wearer.  There would be no signature “Sunday” bottle always on my dresser.  Was it day or night?  What season?  What is my emotional state?  I could construct massive flow-charts of how I decide what to wear but I don’t have a piece of paper big enough.

Also: the memory.  Here’s just a brief example.

  • Gucci “Rush”.  Smells like turning 21.  I can’t wear it anymore, it gives me an instant hang-over and makes me wonder who I made out with last night.  Triggers strong visual memory of being on a dance floor.
  • Givenchy “L’Interdit”.  Smells like a happy, intermediate time of my mid 20′s.  I wore it a lot one winter, so much so that several of my scarves now smell of it permanently.  Created for Audrey Hepburn, this is the fragrance I have worn most consistently for the last 5 years.  Also: a lot of people claim the new L’Interdit (which was reformulated in 2003) is worse than the old one, but those people are dumb.
  • CB I Hate Perfume “Violet Empire”.  Smells like Cincinnati and winter.  Despite having a lame name, CB I Hate Perfume makes interesting fragrances.  Violet-based perfumes can be really old-fashioned and sugary-sweet, but this one is dark, dank and strange.  Like me! Anyway, wearing this smells like moving across country and experiencing sub-zero temperature for the first time, “Violet Empire” actually smells like freezing to me.
  • No brand carnation.  Smells like New Zealand.   I bought this cheap, generic carnation perfume to take with me to New Zealand because I bravely limited myself to a single fragrance for my trip, and I wanted something I could lose and not fret over.  I wore it every day of my stay there, and wearing it now makes me literally dizzy at first while I try and remember where I am currently, physically standing.  To a lesser extent Carmex lip balm has the same effect since I used it regularly while there.
  • Bvlgari “Red Tea” (“Thé Rouge”).  Smells like adulthood. Hard to explain, but really strong.  I have two place-specific memories that hit me when I wear this (one standing in Seattle in the rain, another while in a store in Olympia) with a kind of bittersweet overtone.  Started wearing this around the time I decided to move away from Washington state.
  • No brand linden.  Smells like Italy.  I wore a linden solid-perfume while in Italy (it might have been L’Occitane, but I honestly can’t recall – so much for the memory association) and it still smells like old cafes, museums and gelaterias to me.  Happy, but not intoxicating.
  • Queen Helene “Mint Julep” deodorant.   Smells like childhood.   I don’t wear this but my dad did when I was little and when I see it in stores I like to take a big whiff.

Of course there are bad memories, too:

  • Some popular men’s cologne.  Smells like an ex-boyfriend.  I still occasionally get whiffs of this unknown but reasonably popular fragrance and it makes my skin crawl.
  • Archibald Sisters “Uppercut”.  Smells like fury.  Worn by a housemate that robbed us (and others) and then split town.  Archibald Sisters is a little boutique shop in Olympia, Washington, that mixes a few of their own scents of which “Uppercut” is one.  I guess it’s a take on some other popular men’s fragrance, because I smell something very similar every once and a while and I become instantly enraged, hateful and disgusted.  I have to calm down and tell myself that the douchebag isn’t in my general proximity.

Anyway, there you have it.  Smells.  Memories.  Discuss.

In Which We Dogpile On An Unsuspecting Scientist

Posted by Sunday on Aug 17, 2008 at 1:59 pm

This morning a comment was left by Dr. Chris Lintott, astrophysicist. ASTROPHYSICIST. Oh, I am squirming with delight right now. And seriously, if that isn’t awesome enough, he co-wrote the book Bang! The Complete History of the Universe with Brian May – yes, THE LEAD GUITARIST OF QUEEN, WHO IS ALSO AN ASTROPHYSICIST. Buckaroo Bonzai naysayers can stuff it!

In February of this year I wrote an offhand snippet about my adoration of the science fiction movie Sunshine that included a few one-liners aimed at Dr. Lintott. He had been consulted as an astronomer to comment on the movie, and I used his quotes in my own post.

Today Halcyon wrote a response to Dr. Lintott that I wanted to publish it here as a front-page post rather than a comment (both due to its length and my continuing interest in the subject). I am thankful that Dr. Lintott felt comfortable responding to my previous post here at GalacticMu, and I hope that he forgives us for responding on our own turf like this.

Your Captain,


(For ease of reading, I will reprint Chris Lintott’s comment here before Halcyon’s)

“I was asked to comment as an astronomer; to an astronomer, it’s hard not to notice that the science is, well, ‘complete rubbish’. That’s different from saying I didn’t enjoy the movie (which I did), but it does matter. The emotional impact of the film came partly from the fact that we believe this is our world we’re watching – otherwise why does the shot at the end of the Sydney Opera House under snow have such an impact? To me, that’s completely undermined by the fact that physics appears to work differently in the sunshine universe.”

Dr. Lintott, it is truly an honor. Thank you for stopping by our humble blogship.

I’m sad to say you seem to be arguing around the point of Captain Sunday’s post. There is a larger context here, which is explored thoroughly in a newer post. Here’s the gist: our community, the science fiction community, has taken an ugly turn toward realism… mundane fiction, as Sunday calls it. Part of the reason for this shift is that scifi authors have suddenly become quite concerned with what real scientists think of their work. Plausibility is running roughshod over imagination.

Science fiction, as Sunday points out, has never been about empirical science; it has always been about fictional science. The goal of SF is not to illustrate what is real, but to ask “What if?”

Many of SF’s greatest works completely ignore one or more fundamental laws of physics. Take “Fantastic Voyage” for example. The physics are preposterous. That’s a given, part of the contract Asimov makes with the reader at the beginning of the book. Everyone knows it’s impossible to shrink a human being down to the size of a blood vessel, but what if you could shrink a human down to the size of a blood vessel? How cool would that be? How many future scientists and doctors were inspired by that book (and the movie)? And what do you want to bet that Fantastic Voyage was the inspiration (directly or indirectly) behind today’s endoscopes? How about the camera-pill?

Scientific discoveries (and theories) inspire science fiction. Likewise, SF can and has inspired scientists. This reciprocity of inspiration is healthy. But it is lost when scientists take fiction too seriously and when authors (and auteurs) take scientists too seriously.

When SF creators become too concerned with how (as in: “how does this spaceship have artificial gravity”), they wind up sacrificing the what-if. SF becomes devoid of entertainment and inspiration, as dry as a scientific journal. A little suspension-of-disbelief is a small price to pay for a movie as beautiful as Sunshine.

Besides which, suspension-of-disbelief is good for you. It’s a healthy part of a scientist’s diet. Because almost everything you know to be scientifically valid would have been considered complete rubbish by scientists like yourself 100 years ago. And every new theory starts with someone suspending his or her disbelief about how our world works.

Always here to help,
Psych Officer
Galactic Mu

Chris Lintott’s personal blog.

The official Bang! The Complete History of the Universe website.

This interview with American astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell, the 6th human being to walk on the surface of the moon, has Dr. Mitchell by no means mincing around the subject of alien contact with humans. They are real. They have been here for a long time. He’s not joking and indeed, appears to not have a sense of humor at all.

Try to ignore the sniggering British interviewer and listen instead to a very articulate scientist lay it all out for you.

Note: I deeply respect this man and I’d appreciate if snarky comments were left to a minimum.

Who’s Up For a Little Polydimethylsiloxane?

Posted by Sunday on Jul 6, 2008 at 11:19 pm

While it is well known that for every idea there is an internet contingent, I was nevertheless surprised to discover that “beauty blogging” is a massive sub-culture about to shake the sub-. YouTube’s sidebar category of “Howto & Style” will have on any given day no less than three videos of someone applying eyeshadow on themselves. I suppose we should start a pool for how long before it is produced for cable along side “Ice Road Truckers.

And a late warning to our readers: this post is 95% lame lady crap and 5% science. You’ll survive.

You see, I wear the make-up. I don’t put too much thought into it, but like any hobby you quickly and unhappily learn that for every cheap item that works great there are 50 that burn your eyes or make giant, pulsating cysts form on your forehead. And that alternately, for every expensive tube of lipstick that wears great, there is at least another one that rubs off on your teeth within seconds. It’s complicated. Lots of women like it, as evidenced by the entire industry. Just as many are intimidated and offended, as evidenced by me and Leesa clutching each other for support as we stumble around Sephora, eyes glazing over from a combination of fluorescent lighting and airborne mineral-foundation.

I distinctly remember guffawing at the sudden advancement of a new category of make-up: primer. Like, painting primer, I thought? Jesus, this industry is getting out of control. Primer! Small bottles of some viscous, milky-clear fluid for $40 and higher! We’ve been happily slathering on foundation (which, I believe, was supposed to be the bottom layer of make-up, as evidenced by its name) without ill effects for many a generation, and now you’re telling us we need “primer”?

300.jpgAnd that’s when I made several stunning scientific discoveries¹. The first is that “primer” is primarily dimethicone (short for polydimethylsiloxane), a silicon-based organic polymer that makes stuff slippery while still dry. Hmm, I think, I’ve been diligently slathering dimethicone in my hair for ages now (shout out to Aveda’s Light Elements Smoothing Fluid, whut-whut!). And lord knows I love a polymer. Secondly, an over-the-counter product made by Monistat (yes, that Monistat) called “Chafing Relief Powder-Gel” is… drumroll please… primarily dimethicone. The same consistency and appearance as the expensive “primer”. And at about $6 a tube.

So bladda bladda bladda, in the name of science I bought the tube of anti-chafing gel marketed toward ladies with chafing lady-parts and rubbed it on my face. And then I put make-up on. And you know what? It worked like a goddamn charm. Make-up went on smoother, blended better, wore better, felt better.

Turns out effortless, natural beauty like mine requires a base-coat of silicon-based polydimethylsiloxane.

Oh science. Will you ever stop being weird?

A public service announcement: some people have sensitivities to silicones, so do a test patch (inside of wrist or other tender area) before smearing all over your face. Follow this same advice for any material you feel you might be sensitive to: hot sauce, nanotechnology, foreign currency, etc.

Amazing polydimethylsiloxane at Wikipedia.

¹And by “stunning scientific discoveries” I mean that the first 10,000 Google hits bring up “Monistat Chafing Gel is best make-up primer!!!1!!